Har Sinai gets approvals from township zoning board

Approval will allow existing two-story office building to be converted and expanded to house a sanctuary, Hebrew school, social hall, and administrative offices

By Marianne Hooker
   At its Feb. 1 meeting, the Hopewell Township Zoning Board of Adjustment granted preliminary and final site plan approval to the Har Sinai Hebrew Congregation.
   The approval will allow an existing two-story office building to be converted and expanded to house a sanctuary, Hebrew school, social hall, and administrative offices.
   The board also approved a use variance that will allow a larger sign to be installed at a home business along Route 31.
   Har Sinai site plan — Attorney Robert Ridolfi presented the site plan application on behalf of Har Sinai. Also testifying were architect Tom Haggerty and Russell Smith, an engineer and planner.
   Mr. Ridolfi said the board granted a use variance for this project last August. The proposed addition, which would be to the rear of the building, would add on another 2080 square feet. No bulk variances would be required.
   The proposed site for the Har Sinai complex is at the southwest corner of Denow Road and Route 31. It consists of two adjacent parcels measuring over 9 acres in all. The proposed conversion of the office building represents the first phase of the building plan. In the next phase, a second existing building on the site would be demolished to make room for a new sanctuary. The site plan presented at the Feb. 1 meeting was for phase one only.
   Mr. Smith said the congregation would agree to consolidate the two parcels of land. Once expanded, the phase one building would have 12,000 square feet of space on two floors. The second floor and part of the first floor would be used for the school. The rest of the first floor would be devoted to offices, and the new space in back would be used for a chapel and a multi-purpose room. The building would also have a stair tower at each end.
   Mr. Smith outlined the times when services would be held and the proposed hours of the Hebrew school. He said the number of parking spaces proposed would be adequate for the congregation’s needs. The plans for the site call for construction of a 2500-square-foot playground on the south side of the property. There would also be an upgrade to the existing stormwater detention basin. With the proposed building expansion, the site would have a very slight increase in its impervious surface coverage.
   For the time being, the congregation would continue to use the existing septic system and well that serve the office building. Eventually they would plan to extend public water to the site from the other side of Route 31. Once Denow Road is extended to the west, they would need an access easement to connect with the new street.
   Mr. Smith said the applicant would be planting some shade trees, as suggested in the township engineer’s memo. He also noted that they would replace the existing outdoor lighting fixtures with some shoebox-type lights that would make for less spillover onto adjacent properties.
   In reviewing the possible impacts on neighboring properties, Mr. Smith said the area where the addition would be built is about 500 feet from the nearest home. There are wooded areas that would provide a significant buffer between the phase one building and the residential properties to the east and south. To the north, there is another office building. Mr. Smith said a traffic study was conducted at the time of the use variance application last year. The study concluded that the proposed development would generate a minimum amount of added traffic.
   Paul Pogorzelski, township engineer, described the Har Sinai plan as an adaptive reuse of an existing facility. He said the specific location of the eventual Denow Road extension is not yet fixed. There may be a north-south connection between Denow and Diverty roads at some future date. Mr. Pogorzelski said that from a safety standpoint, it would be desirable to restrict turning movements at the Diverty Road-Route 31 intersection to right turns only.
   Michael Bolan, the township’s planning consultant, said the proposed number of parking spaces for the facility would be adequate. He noted that the times of the various group activities would not overlap. He also said that the sign proposed by Har Sinai would meet the township’s requirements.
   Mr. Ridolfi said the COAH affordable housing development fee does not apply to houses of worship. No one from the public had any comments on the proposed site plan. The board voted unanimously to approve the plan, based on several agreed-upon conditions.
   Sign for home business — Thomas and Lisa Rossland, who were represented by attorney Fred Schragger, were asking for a larger sign. Ms. Rossland operates a tarot card reading business out of 2416 Pennington Road. The property in question is at the southeast corner of Route 31 and Denow Road.
   Mr. Schragger said the applicants were requesting permission to install a 2-foot-by-2-foot sign on the pole where their present sign is located. Because of a bend of the road, it is hard for motorists going north to see the existing sign. Ms. Rossland said many of her clients tell her they have trouble seeing the sign. When they miss turning in to the driveway, they need to make a difficult turnaround.
   Ms. Rossland said her business is by appointment only. There are 10 or 12 appointments per week, on the average, and never more than one client at a time. Her hours of operation are between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
   There was some discussion as to whether the sign might conflict with the prescribed sight triangle for the intersection of the driveway and Route 31. Board member Frank Klapinski, who is a surveyor, said the location of the existing sign appears to fall within the right-of-way for Route 31. Mr. Schragger said the applicants would be willing to move the sign back closer to the house. However, they would like to have the more visible, larger sign.
   There were no comments on this application from any members of the public. The board voted unanimously to approve the variance for the sign. To make sure there is no conflict with the sight triangle, the position of the sign will be decided by the township engineer and the zoning officer.
   IN OTHER BUSINESS, the board took jurisdiction of an application by the Lewis Clinic and School of Princeton. The school has applied for a use variance for a property located at 925 Cherry Valley Road, in the VRC zone. The applicant is proposing to use an existing single-family home and associated buildings for an education clinic and school, with the possibility of adding more buildings in the future. Mr. Ridolfi, who was representing the school, said the applicant wanted to postpone its appearance until next month’s meeting. In the interim, they would like to meet with the neighbors to explain and discuss their plans.
   The board will hold a special meeting on Feb. 15 to hear a continuation of the cell tower application by Cingular Pennsylvania.